If you had no industry intelligence, no killer technology, no innovative production or service-delivery model, no singular resource, and no brand loyalty that could push you ahead in the market, who would you rely on for competitive advantage?
Some leaders may affirm the intent of the question with statements like: “Yes, of course, people are our most valuable asset” and “We absolutely need to win in the talent wars.” While these maxims may ring true, if you ask people specifically what they need in talent, there is little consensus on what would truly deliver a competitive advantage.
One of the most significant advantages for organizations in the 21st century is a workforce that has the capacity to recognize the hidden curriculum of work and manage its demands. Coined by educator Benson Snyder, the term “hidden curriculum” can be applied when there are two simultaneous challenges where one is visible, clear and understood, and the other is concealed, ambiguous and undefined.
For example, professional athletes master the fundamentals of their sport and excel at the highest level on the court or field of play. But they still have to learn how to deal with wealth, fame and the many other challenges that come with professional sports. In the same way, there is a hidden curriculum of work that all employees and managers encounter.
Both new and experienced professionals — whether from the employee or management ranks — quickly discover a job description that explains their role is quite different from the reality they face. Nobody discusses it, but the day they were hired they actually accepted two jobs. The first was the position they interviewed for, including the title and all of the responsibilities outlined on paper. The second job-within-the-job requires them to manage constant change, effectively collaborate with difficult people, navigate confusing workplace politics and get their best work done in an environment of shrinking resources and increasing demands.
Senior leaders can leverage their human capital and extend their organization’s competitive advantage by exposing the hidden curriculum of work within a company’s culture. All leaders must recognize their responsibility in helping their people to go beyond their job descriptions to sustain continuous workforce learning and performance. If leaders are unable to expose their team’s hidden curriculum of work, they miss the opportunity to identify and resolve some of the more corrosive individual and group barriers that undermine success.
To unleash the potential of their people to contribute to critical objectives, senior leaders must focus their attention and resources on efforts to empower emerging and established managers to respond effectively to the hidden side of work. This begins with three strategic drivers, including:
1. Scan the organization for signs of the hidden curriculum of work. Use a common language to name work challenges and create a culture of expectations, accountability and support for team members to examine their “job-within-the-job” and to navigate its challenges.
2. Shift organizational systems to match the realities of work. Reorient the organizational structure around the needs of the hidden curriculum of work, such as recruit and hire based on the hidden curriculum and design policies, procedures and resource allocations accordingly.
3. Commit time, energy and resources to future leadership growth. Engage others to reveal their own hidden curriculum of work and turn followers into leaders by empowering them to actively contribute to the changes necessary to meet demands.
Sustaining high levels of these factors can lead to bottom-line success for the organization and a virtuous cycle that follows: Healthy relationships among engaged people, doing their best work, in a profitable company, which produces healthier, more engaged people doing even better work as they contribute increasingly to long-term organizational success.
This cycle directly affects one of the greatest challenges facing today’s leaders — the need to accomplish more with less — by systemically accelerating the multiplication of benefits with the integration of new skills and abilities that directly affect capacity to achieve organizational goals. It all begins with going beyond the job description.
Jesse Sostrin is founder and president of Sostrin Consulting, a leadership and organization development company, and author of “Beyond the Job Description.” He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.